Orchard Dump
Webmatters : Visiting the Chemin des Dames: The Plateau de Californie
Rough Map of Area

Chemin des Dames 1917

A walk round the Plateau

Chemin des Dames Tour

This is a walk of about two and a half kilometres on reasonably easy walkways. It can be conducted from either the car park at the lookout point or from Vieux Craonne.

From the orientation table at the Plateau de Californie car park take the steps up past Haim’s sculpture and then at the top take the footpath to the right (posts are marked in yellow and green).

As you walk along the ridge there are a number of panels in French, English and German explaining different aspects of the fighting in the area and the life of the soldiers.

On a good day there are some stunning views to be had out over the countryside, note however to your right the steepness of the slopes.

Mist hanging over new Craonne

At 0700 hours in the morning, the mist hangs over new Craonne

You will come to another panoramic plateau and just round the corner from here is a German bunker taken by the 18e Régiment d’Infanterie. If you have arrived from the parking at Vieux Craonne, this is where you join the circuit.

From the panorama turn left and follow the route until you come to a trig point. Here you turn left and then follow the pathway off to your right where you will find the remnants of trenches.

Continuing along you may have a chance to look out over Bove Château but much depends on the foliage on the trees.

Two more foot paths will lead you off (but return again to this route) to the right where you will find further evidence of trenches and artillery fire.

A little further on you can descend back down past Haim Kern’s sculpture or continue round towards the bunker again to descend from the plateau from there.

Taking the Plateau

Général Nivelle’s theory that this entire ridge would be in French hands by the evening of the 16th April soon fell to pieces when a number of days later his soldiers were still trying to fight their way into Craonne let alone take the heights above it.

On 28th April 1917 plans were drawn up for an assault to be carried out by the 36e Division d’Infanterie (from the Basque Region). The Division carried out numerous practices on similar ground in the rear areas and on 3rd and 4th May the French Artillery put down fake barrages complete with machine guns and a creeping barrage.

From the German perspective

2007, looking down from the top of the slope

That evening the 38e Régiment d’Infanterie from the town of Pau were ordered forward. At 1800 hours they started their attack and within minutes had been able to clear the forward German positions using flame throwers.

With the lower positions taken the French waited until 0900 hours the following day before re-launching their assault on the plateau. It took them just 30 minutes to climb the ridge and take all the positions as far as the northern edge.

In the afternoon however, the Division came under a barrage and a series of heavy counter attacks followed over the next 24 hours.

The 36e DI was bleeding soldiers. Forty per cent of the 18e RI had been killed or wounded and the 34e RI was down to seven officers (A French Regiment consisted of three battalions).

In three days of fighting the Basque Division took over 2,800 casualties, and had to be relieved.

Hard going, even with a rope

During the commemorations for the 90th Anniversary the Maire of Craonne brought a dawn gathering up this hillside slope — with the aid of the Sapeurs-Pompiers (firemen) who had let ropes down the sides for people to hang onto. Take a look at the photos and think of what was being asked of the soldiers.

Return to your vehicle and continue on to Vieux Craonne: